Sunday, 10 February 2008

Easy Bag Pattern

Easy Bag Tutorial

This little bag is quick and easy to put together, and you can have alot of fun with fabric and trims. First of all, you need to draw up the pattern. Ruler, pencil and paper is all that's required. It's worth spending a bit of time to get it accurate as this will then be your template for every bag you make - you can then transfer the template to cardboard or template plastic. (Click on link below; right click and select 'save image as'. Save to desktop and/or print it out).

You need;- 20 cm fabric for straps and bottom front of bag. 25cm fabric for back of bag (I use same as bottom front/straps). 10cm fabric for top front of bag. 25cm (cheaper) fabric for lining. 30cm Lightweight iron on interfacing. 10cm Ribbon for loop. 30cm Trim for front of bag. 1 Button.
1cm seam allowance has been included in pattern pieces. Use matching thread for a much better finish. Remember golden rule - RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER before sewing anything.
Using pattern, cut out interfacing, lining and fabrics. Iron the interfacing to the fabric pieces. With right sides facing, sew the top & bottom fronts together. Sew the trim over seam on front.

With right sides facing, sew bottom & side seams together.

To form the base of the bag - match the side and bottom seams - sew straight down this line. It will look like the photo below. Trim the seam.

Repeat with the other corner - your bag should now stand up by itself. Do exactly the same with the lining - sew side and bottom seams. Then match side & bottom seams and form base - only this time leave a 15cm opening in the bottom seam so that you can turn the bag through later.

Fold the straps lengthways, right sides facing and sew together across one end and along the side. Turn right side out and press.

The quickest & easiest way to do this is to use a tube, which you push into your strap (or arm/leg if making a doll) and push a stick into the fabric from the closed end. The stick pushes into the tube and turns the fabric tube right side out in one easy step. You can buy these online very cheaply if you can't find them around the home - it's money well spent.

Topstitch your straps to add a nice decorative touch. It's all these little steps that give a more professional finish (OK, my stitching's a bit wobbly; guess I like the homespun look more)!

Measure 7cm along front and back of bag from side seams and place pin. Use this as a guide and pin handles in place.

At back of bag at the top find the centre and pin the ends of the ribbon in place to form a loop for the button. Sew the loop and straps in place. Your bag should now look like this.

With right sides together and matching the side seams, place the bag inside the lining and sew around the top of the lining/bag sandwiching the loops and straps inside.
Trim the seam allowance around the top of the bag.

Turn the bag through to right side and hand stitch the opening in lining closed.

Your bag is almost finished. Give it a good iron now before topstitching around the top edge, and sewing the button in place.

And of course, the best part - wrapping it up and giving it to someone special...

Once you've got the hang of this easy bag, it's time to start making up a few more in different styles; you can't have too many bags!


Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Perfect Mother

He didn't like the casserole
And he didn't like my cake.
He said my biscuits were too hard...

Not like his mother used to make.
I didn't perk the coffee right
He didn't like the stew,

I didn't mend his socks

The way his mother used to do.

I pondered for an answer

I was looking for a clue.

Then I smacked the little sh*t

Like his MOTHER used to do.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Easy Vegetable Curry

This is based on a recipe from Gordon Ramsay's 'Fast Food'. This cookbook has a great list of storecupboard essentials in it, recipes for 'basics' and a good variety of mains and easy deserts; I wouldn't exactly call this one 'fast' though; I prefer to cook it on the weekend when I know there's plenty of time to let the vegetables simmer and absorb the fragrant spices.

You heat 2 tbsp oil in a large wide pan and add shallot's, garlic and chillies. Cook, stirring for a minute or so until the garlic fragrant. I won't give exact quantities as it's one of those recipes where you substitute what you have in the fridge and add as much as you know will feed your family. I then add approx 3 tbspns curry powder, a few cardamom pods and some cumin seeds as well as seasoning (should be smelling wonderful by now).
Add your veggies next such as celeriac, pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower, beans etc. all cut into similar sized pieces. Stir over a higher heat for a few minutes. Tip in a 400g can of chopped tomatoes, fill the empty can with water and pour this in too. Bring to the boil. Add broccoli/zucchini and veggies that don't require as long a cooking time and simmer until all the veggies are tender. Take off the heat and stir in about 250ml greek-style natural yogurt. Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving. I serve this with basmati rice and hot lebanese or afghan bread torn into pieces and not forgetting home-made mango chutney.

Craft Friday's

Well - I've decided Friday's are all mine to work on my craft projects. Not quite as priveleged a life as Beatrice and Dorothea but it ain't half bad. I started with a nice easy project - a vintage bear made from a lovely piece of old chenille that I got off ebay a while ago; and vintage lace and buttons from my collection - aged beautifully with my special brew of tea and a few other things (top secret...)!...

....and complete with her own little patchwork quilt. She's packing her bags ready for a trip overseas as she's being adopted by a very special person who put a request in quite a while ago!!

And just to get inspired, I love going through my lovely old collection of sewing stuff.
There's bits of old lace and vintage gloves (were there hands really that small?)...

Lots of old cotton reels and wooden bobbins...

and buttons, needles, hooks & eyes etc.

- did I mention buttons.... I LOVVE buttons - you can't have too many!

Roll on next Friday....

Sunburnt Country Embroidery Project

If you love the poem by Dorothea McKellar, it's worth getting hold of the current issue of 'Australian Homespun' Magazine. There's a fabulous design of the poem to embroider and frame, by Fiona Tully.

I couldn't resist it - especially with the lovely native plant borders. It'll be the first sewing project I've tackled in quite a while. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy sitting down and doing a bit of sewing... just needed some new inspiration!

I've transferred the design to calico; picked out some threads and found a little tin to keep all my bits & pieces in, and I'm ready to go. It may take a while - but I'll post the finished pic one day soon.

It's fascinating to read the story about Dorothea Mackellar. Not unlike Beatrice Potter in alot of ways - quite a privileged life but a great deal of heartbreak and sadness too.

For a brief history lesson in Australian literature when you have the time; here it is.
Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar was born on 1 July 1885, at her family's home that stands on Point Piper, overlooking Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour. The third of four children, Dorothea was the only daughter born to renowned physician and Parliamentarian, Sir Charles Kinnaird Mackellar and his wife, Marion (nee Buckland). The young Dorothea received private tutoring in painting, fencing and languages and later attended lectures at the Sydney University though she never formally enrolled as a student. She spoke French, German, Italian and Spanish fluently. When the family travelled overseas, Dorothea acted as an interpreter for her father.

Dorothea had a lively personality with a keen sense of humour, which is reflected in her diary entries of the early 1900's. Hers was a privileged life that was divided between the busy sophistication of the city and the simplicity of the country.

The Mackellar family owned several properties in the Gunnedah area, including "Kurrumbede" and "The Rampadells" on the Blue Vale Road near Gunnedah. The late Mrs Maude Broun lived on the adjoining property, "Coulston", with her husband, the son of Sir Charles Broun. In a taped interview after Dorothea's death, Mrs Broun recalled the Mackellar's regular visits with Dorothea, Eric and Malcolm (her two remaining brothers, Keith having been killed in the Boer War at age 19), to their Gunnedah country residences.

Sir Charles handed these properties over to his sons whom many still remember as well respected and generous members of our local community. Over the years Dorothea often visited the area, staying with her brothers and maintaining her skills as an ardent horsewoman. Dorothea was very proud of the fact that she could ride side-saddle so well, even in the bush.

The first draft of what was to become Australia's most quoted and best loved poem, "My Country", was written in England at a time when Dorothea was feeling homesick. Never quite content with the verses, she wrote and re-wrote the poem several times after returning to Australia and living in the apartments above her father's consulting rooms in Buckland Chambers, Liverpool Street, Sydney, opposite the ANZAC Memorial. It is fitting that Dorothea's Memorial should now grace ANZAC Park in Gunnedah, depicting her as the young woman who wrote "My Country", and gazing in the direction of her beloved "Kurrumbede".

Dorothea never married though, at 28 years of age, whilst living in London, she fell in love with an English poet named Patrick Chalmers. When she returned to Australia just before the start of World War I, she wrote to Patrick to let him know her parents approved of their decision to wed. Unfortunately, the letter was lost and Patrick married someone else. Dorothea was heartbroken, her poetry after this experience becoming more serious with sometimes tragic undertones. ("Sorrow")

Dorothea continued to write and travel during the Twenties and early Thirties, her work appearing in journals of high repute such as the London "Spectator", American "Harper's Magazine" and the Sydney "Bulletin" among others. During these years, four volumes of verse were published, "The Closed Door", "The Witchmaid", "Dreamharbour" and "Fancy Dress".

The Australian countryside continued to be a source of inspiration to Dorothea. Two poems that particularly reflect her special relationship with our district are; "Dawn" (At the dawning of the day; On the road to Gunnedah...), and "Burning Off" (They're burning off at the Rampadells; The tawny flames uprise...).

Later in life Dorothea suffered increasing ill health and ceased to write. In the 1968 New Year Honours list her contribution to Australian literature was formally recognised and she was made an Officer of the British Empire. Sadly, only two weeks later on the 14 January, Dorothea Mackellar died in her sleep in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington. The funeral service was held in St Mark's Church at Darling Point where reportedly Dorothea's favourite poem, "Colour" was read. She was once recorded saying about the poem, "You know, I think that was as close as I ever came to writing poetry." She was laid to rest in the family vault at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney.

Dorothea's brothers predeceased her, leaving no heirs, therefore Dorothea was the last of that branch of the Mackellars.
(Information from

My Country by Dorothea McKellar

I'm all baked-out; time for a poem me-thinks. And from one of Australia's all-time greatest....

My Country
© 1904 Dorothea McKellar

The love of field and coppice, of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance, brown streams and soft, dim skies-
I know but cannot share it, my love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror- the wide brown land for me!

The stark white ring-barked forests, all tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains, the hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops, and ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country! Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us we see the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather, and we can bless again
The drumming of an army, the steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country! Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine she pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks, watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness that thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country, a wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her, you will not understand -
Though earth holds many splendours, wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country my homing thoughts will fly.

Best Ever Lemon Slice

Now to use up the other half of your lemon/orange icing. Unbelievably simple and delicious; you don't even need to switch the oven on for this one.
You need;- Half a cup of condensed milk, 125g butter, 250g packet of sweet biscuits - 'home brand' or the cheapest you can find, 1 cup desiccated coconut, zest of two lemons.
You;- heat the condensed milk and the butter in a saucepan until butter melts. Crush the packet of biscuits in a food processor; or just in a bag using a rolling pin. Combine the biscuit crumbs with the coconut and lemon zest in a large bowl. Simply pour the condensed milk mix in and stir until well combined. Press firmly into a square slice dish (approx 7 inches/18 cm sq) Refridgerate until cool. Spread your icing over the top. Return to fridge for at least 3 hours before slicing. (If you are making a new batch of icing for this recipe, just cream 250g room temp cream cheese and 90g soft butter with electric beaters. Add 1 cup sifted icing sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and zest of 1 lemon).

Orange Poppyseed Muffins

More back to school baking! Although I'll make sure there's enough of these for my lunches too. It took a bit of searching to find a good recipe for these; but there's a brilliant Aussie site which has recipes from alot of the food magazines. Very useful when you're stuck for idea's. Click on TASTE to go straight to the site and search engine.
Make up a double batch of the icing as I've got another great recipe coming up - saves heaps of time.
So for the muffins you need;-
2 and a half cups self-raising flour, 1 tspn baking powder, 2/3 cup caster sugar, 1 and a half tablespoons poppyseeds, third of a cup of extra light olive oil, third of a cup of buttermilk (easy to find in supermarkets now along with the ordinary milk), 2 eggs lightly whisked, 2 large oranges - rind grated and juiced.
For the icing you need;- 100g cream cheese, quarter cup of icing sugar.
You;- heat your oven to 200 degrees celcius. Grease a muffin tray or place muffin cases in. Sift the flour and baking powder in to a bowl. Stir in the sugar and poppyseeds. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs and 2 tspns orange rind and half a cup of orange juice in a jug. Pour into the well. Gently fold until just combined.
Three-quarters fill the muffin pan cases or tin. Bake for 15-20 mins until light golden.
Make the icing - beat the cream cheese and sifted icing sugar with half a tspn of orange rind and 1 tspn orange juice until well mixed. Spoon onto the top of the muffins.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Simple Soap Making

I've had a couple of goes at making soap now. The first time I used a recipe from a book; it was a huge mission - I gathered all the equipment, waited for a time when everyone was out of the house, and donned apron, special chemical-spill gloves and goggles.
The goggles fogged up so I couldn't see what I was doing; I had to duck out mid-way through to buy more olive oil as I had underestimated the amount required, and finally - the soap mysteriously disappeared while I had left it to 'cure' on the back verandah. (I later found some of it in the garden; apparently the possums had mistaken it for coconut ice)!! All in all, not exactly a cheap, simple or enjoyable pursuit.

Determined not to let it get the better of me (and due to the fact that we had completely run out of soap and I stubbornly refused to buy any more after spending all that money on my equipment...) I set to and had another attempt. This time I used a recipe from
'The Self-Sufficiency Shoppe'
with considerably more success I might add, and I quite enjoyed the process. We now have enough to last several months. Not only does each piece last a long time, but it is very moisturising and smells wonderful with a special blend of essential oils. It's far better for your skin than bought soap - which has all sorts of extra chemicals added and then has the moisurising component removed (sold seperately as glycerine to maximise profits).

I would still advise that you read the basics of soap-making first though - as there are safety issues to take into account; but certainly don't let this put you off. The library has some good books, or there's a great tutorial on the Aussie Soap Supplies Website.
Anyway - for that quick basic soap recipe...
You need;- half a cup of distilled water, 2 rounded tablespoons of caustic soda, 1 cup melted fat (or 3/4 cup of fat and 1/4 cup olive oil or other oil). A soap mould.
I use 'Frymaster' - vegetable fat from the butter section of the supermarket - $2.50 for 500g and cheap olive oil. For the mould - I use a 'pringles' chip container; or similar round tube. Caustic Soda is readily available from the supermarket - but keep it locked in a cupboard or out of reach of young children.
This recipe is enough to make about 3 - 4 bars of soap; so if it doesn't work out at least you haven't wasted too much stuff, as you would with some of the other recipes.
You; assemble all your things first. Pour the distilled water into a glass or earthenware mixing bowl. PLACE THIS BOWL INTO THE SINK. It will get hot & steamy when you add the caustic soda so use caution. Gloves & goggles don't cost much from the hardware store. Add the caustic soda - STIR CONSTANTLY UNTIL DISSOLVED. Cover with a piece of cardboard and don't let anyone into the kitchen.
While this solution is cooling - melt your fat in the microwave. Add your olive or special oil (there's some great ones to try with different skin/moisturising properties such as emu/coconut/macadamia/avocado etc). Stir together slowly.
Test the temperature of your caustic soda solution with a thermometer if you have one - if not, it's quite OK to get a rough gauge of the temperature by touching the outside of the container. When both containers feel approx the same temperature (ie. lukewarm) remove the cardboard cover from the caustic soda solution in the sink and SLOWLY pour the melted fat in. Stir slowly - it should start to thicken and turn opaque. It's handy to use a stick blender at this stage to speed things along. Add any colours/essential oils/exfollient mixes such as rolled oats/herbs etc. to make your batch extra special, then pour it into your mould.
Allow it to set overnight; wrapped in an old towel. Turn out; cut it into bars, store in a well-aired but dry place for 4-6 weeks. Do a skin test before using; such as the inside of your arm - just to make sure the caustic soda has cured sufficiently. Bec used some of my first batch without testing it first, and got a rash all over her tummy! A bit of vinegar soon cured it although it took a bit of convincing for her to try my second batch of soap!!
The first batch above has lavender added which makes a great exfoliating bar - as well as lavender essential oil, and half of it has pink food colouring mixed in. The second batch just has pink food colouring and an essenial oil blend added; although it came out quite hard and broke apart when I tried to cut it - still great to use though. The third batch pictured above also has an essential oil blend added as well as some LSA mix (bread making section of supermarket) as an exfolient, some rolled oats and a tablespoon of honey. This bar cut very nicely into four pieces using the recipe above. You can use eucalyptus oil to make an antiseptic type soap; or a herbal infusion (3 tspns dried herbs to 250ml boiling water, cooled and strained) in place of the distilled water. Don't overdo the additives until you've had a bit of practise, as this could affect the soap's ability to reach trace. (When it thickens and sets). Have fun!!

Awesome Chocolate Muffins

I've been making this one for so long I can't remember where I got the recipe from. Muffins are one of the quickest recipes to throw together and it's also one of the most popular with the kids. We just dolloped some of the butter icing on top, but they're fine without.
You need;- 1 and a qrter cups plain flour, 3 tbspns cocoa, 2 tspns baking powder, half cup soft brown sugar, 100g butter, 2 eggs, half cup milk, 1 cup choc chips.
You;- sift the flour, cocoa & baking powder into a bowl. (or not!) Stir in sugar. Melt the butter in the microwave. Beat the eggs & milk until combined. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add butter, egg mixture and chocolate chips. Mix to just moisten only - this is the key to making great muffins - and to get them in to the pre-heated oven straight away. Bake at 190 degrees celcius for approx 20 mins. Makes about 12. Use muffin cases if you have them - otherwise just put mixture straight into greased muffin tin.
And for more great 'back to school' baking recipes; check out some of my previous recipes; such as banana cake; anzac biscuits; shortbread; scones; choc-caramel slice and brownies.

Simple Chocolate/Coffee Cake

You place the following, in order, into a mixing bowl;- 1 cup sugar, 1 egg, half cup milk, half cup melted butter, 4 tspns cocoa or coffee, 1 tspn baking powder, 1 tspn baking soda, 1 tspn vanilla essence, 1 and a half cups plain flour, half cup boiling water.
You;- beat hard for 3 mins with electric mixer. Bake in greased and lined tin - good in loaf tin if cutting into slices for freezing. The cake mix is quite runny - this is fine; it turns our perfect every time. (180 degrees celcius for 35-40 mins approx). Cool, and ice with butter icing.
We also made Vanilla Cup Cakes; it's quite easy then to make up a double batch of butter icing and just add coffee/cocoa to one half.
Another good one to try is Caramel Cup Cakes.

Tons of Choc-Chip Cookies

This is a brilliant recipe that I got from the 'Simple Savings' website. Well worth joining if you're not already a member - the newsletters are filled with helpful hints and tips to save dollars. It is supposed to make around 120 cookies - but we made our's pretty big so we got around half that amount. Of course you can make the dough and leave it in the fridge, then just make up a trayful as you need them - just like that mega-expensive cookie-dough you can get at the supermarket.
You need;- 500g butter or margarine, 1 tin of condensed milk, 1 cup sugar, 5 cups Self-Raising Flour.
You;- Heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius. Cream the (softened) butter and sugar. We just used raw sugar and I refuse to ever use margarine - butter isn't that expensive; and better to have 1 incredible tasting cookie than a dozen filled with 'reduced-fat' chemicals. Add the tin of condensed milk and the flour. Roll into equal-sized balls, place on baking sheet, flatten with fork or bottom of a glass. Press choc-chips into the top (this makes them go much further than throwing them in the dough mixture). Bake for 10-15 mins. Fills the house with the most incredible aroma - hurry up and hide or they won't last until it's back to school time...

Back to School Time

Yep - it's that time again.... 'relief for parents'.. whoops I mean - 'Back to School' time.
I reckon Aussie parents have it particularly tough; there's the silly season with over-hyped kids and Christmas expenses; Summer holidays - all 6-8 weeks to keep them occupied & entertained; and for those working parents without extended family (who aren't teachers) - the dilemma of how to juggle working hours and child-care and still have enough left over (cash and energy that is) to take them to Big W when the 'back to school' flyers start arriving in the mail box and announce (cause your too worn out to do anything else) 'OK guys - just take the trolley and get what you need'. Oh yeah...BIG mistake!! So, what do you do? Spend the next 2 days in the kitchen cooking up a storm so there's actually something to put in that expensive-'but its really cool mum'-lunchbox that they managed to sneak into the Big W trolley.... and you wonder why you're so stressed and it's still only January??
.....Well, have I got the best tried-and-tested recipes for you!
And if you put everything in portions - ie. 2 x cookies/1 x slice of cake/ 1 muffin or cupcake etc. wrapped in Gladwrap in the freezer - there's a good chance you won't have to do any more baking for at our house - 2 days!!

Last of the Summer Garden....

.....reminds me of these guys - used to love 'Last of the Summer Wine'!! If you ever go to the UK you must visit Yorkshire - a place called 'Holmfirth' where the series is made. You can even have a cuppa in the actual cafe - which closes temporarily when they're filming. (I bought mum a pair of Nora Batty's stockings from there!!) He's a couple of great links if you also love the show;-
Holmfirth, UK
Traditional Yorkshire Recipes

I've never laughed so much as when Compo had a go at water ski-ing - his faithful buddies pulling him alongside the creek on a motorbike...!!

I'm getting side-tracked here....!!
The kids were keen to pick the sweetcorn and try it. It wasn't exactly a great success though - I think we had left it too long. I will use this space for something more productive next time. I cleared alot of the Summer stuff out that had gone to seed this weekend and dug over the beds. I added lots of worm castings from my worm farm which is going great - they have multiplied and plough there way through just about all of my kitchen waste each week to make lots of rich compost; and the liquid is great as a weekly booster for all the plants.

The strawberries have been lovely though - just not enough of them...

..And the tomatoes have been sensational. I'll remove the last of the vines in another couple of weeks and plant something else in there. Wished I'd planted a few more though as there's still only just enough to make salads with - I'd like to have tried some preserving and sun-drying; guess there's always next year!

....must be time for a glass of that wine!